In the winter of 1778-1779, over 3,000 Continental Army troops under General Israel Putnam set up three camps in a rocky area of western Connecticut. They were there to protect the stores of supplies in Danbury, which had been burned by the British the year before, as well as to guard against attack from Long Island Sound, to the south, and the Hudson Valley, to the west. It had been a difficult war, and it would be a frigid winter.
Connecticut troops, paid in nearly worthless currency, had struggled through the fighting and marching without adequate food and clothing. General Putnam managed to dissuade them from a planned mutiny, but discontent simmered and one would-be deserter was executed. These privations earned this place the nickname of “Connecticut’s Valley Forge.”
Today, that brutal winter is commemorated at Connecticut’s oldest state park, Putnam Memorial State Park in Redding. Set in a ruggedly beautiful part of the state, the park features a number of trails, preserved historic sites and replicas, a new visitor center, and a museum. The fact that the museum closes for the off-season only makes the experience feel more authentic; after all, when significant events are actually happening, the participants don’t have the luxury of warming up in a nearby museum dedicated to their story!
Having been to Putnam Memorial State Park in both summer and winter, I can say that there’s something special about a visit at this time of year. That’s partly because of the park’s history, of course, but it’s also because winters here feel especially lovely and paradoxically peaceful, and a coating of snow makes everything shiny and still.
In the quiet, cold months of the year, the ponds freeze to silvery ice, the trees drop little sprigs of pine needles at your feet as you walk over packed snow, and the squirrels scurry to and fro. A mile-long trail begins near the bronze statue of Putnam riding his horse down a flight of stairs to elude British pursuit. It loops past sites of interest: a granite memorial obelisk, constructed in 1888, one year after the park was established; a neat row of collapsed chimneys, marking the location of the soldiers’ huts that once lined Company Street; a legendary cave in a striking rock outcrop. Clear signage explains what you’re looking at as you walk, and the stone relics and reconstructed buildings – plus just a little imagination – make it easy to conjure up that winter, now 240 years past.
Putnam Memorial State Park is located on Route 58 in Redding, near the Bethel town line.
The grounds are open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset. For more information, see the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection.
For more history as well as details about reenactments and other special events at the park, see Friends and Neighbors of Putnam Park.
Note that this park is divided into two sections. There’s the historical section, which this post refers to, plus another parcel a short drive away on the other side of Route 58. In that section, you’ll find more trails, including a paved loop, and additional picnic areas.
And pick up a park map from the box at the start of the trail; though it’s not necessary for finding your way around, the walking tour on the back explains some fascinating historical tidbits.